Unpacking the Legal Consequences of South Africa’s Immigration Backlog

In a recent interview with John Maytham on Cape Talk’s Afternoon Drive, June Luna, an experienced immigration attorney, delved into the legal implications of the mounting backlog in South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs. This discussion sheds light on the challenges faced by foreign nationals, businesses, and the legal system itself as a consequence of the delays in processing visa and permit applications.

Current State of Affairs

Recently a leaked internal document from the State’s Attorney’s office in Cape Town painted a grim picture, revealing that Home Affairs has a backlog of applications now standing at a staggering 95 000 applications. Luna relayed, “It’s absolutely terrible at the moment. Applications that used to take two months are now taking in excess of two years. And applications for permanent residency are taking in excess of three to five years.” This crisis seems to affect all foreigners who wish to obtain residency.

The main issue is primarily poor resourcing, poor management and poor infrastructure. There are also simply not enough people to handle the amount of applications coming in. The Department handles all the applications of South African citizens from birth certificates to death certificates. In addition to managing the applications of South African citizens, the Department of Home Affairs is tasked with addressing the immigration needs of foreign nationals entering the country. And they simply don’t have the staff to do it.

Impact on Individuals and Businesses

The consequences of this backlog are far-reaching, affecting individuals, businesses, and the country’s economic landscape. Luna shared insights into the frustration felt by applicants whose lives are on hold, facing frozen bank accounts, travel restrictions, and difficulties in basic tasks such as registering their children. Moreover, the prolonged processing times, reportedly up to 48 weeks for some, hinder business expansion, investments, and job creation in a country grappling with a 33% unemployment rate.

Legal Ramifications

As the backlog persists, June Luna revealed that her law firm has experienced a surge in requests to litigate against the Department of Home Affairs. The frustrations of applicants, coupled with the lack of resources and staff, have resulted in a growing number of legal actions.

Luna clarified that the term “class action” is loosely used, describing it as more of a group action where attorneys gather clients with similar issues to seek legal remedies. The courts, Luna mentioned, have been responsive, issuing orders to Home Affairs to finalise outcomes within specific timeframes. Her firm has been instituting class actions for her clients on a quarterly basis, to assist with providing outcomes timeously.

Department’s Response and Future Prospects

Despite Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s assurance that the backlog would be cleared by June 2024, the latest information from a parliamentary Q&A session has pushed this timeline back to November 2024.

The proposed white paper on migration, which is meant to resolve all of these issues is supposed to be a single piece of legislation, that is meant to deal with the Citizenship Act, the Refugee Act and the Immigration Act. But instead what we see is a paper that is similar to the United Kingdom’s stance on immigration – where it seeks to keep foreign nationals and illegal immigrants out of the country. This does not address the core issue of resource inadequacy.

The interview paints a vivid picture of the challenges faced by foreign nationals and businesses due to the immigration backlog in South Africa. As legal actions increase, and frustrations grow, it remains to be seen how the Department of Home Affairs will tackle these issues and whether proposed reforms will lead to tangible improvements. In the meantime, individuals and businesses are left navigating the complexities of an immigration system in dire need of efficiency and resources.

If you need assistance and help navigating the complexities of the South African immigration system, do not hesitate to contact us. We’re here to assist.